At 80-something, singer-songwriter still has fresh material

WILLIAMSTOWN — The sound of live music drifted from my home the afternoon I had a special visitor.

Fingers strumming guitar, foot tapping to the beat of the music, and velvet voice singing lyrics, Norman Burdick rendered some of the songs he had written within the last couple of years. "Frustration" brought a knowing smile to my face, and "Memories of You," which Norman wrote for his wife of 59 years, Betsy, tugged at my heart.

Norman has recorded his original songs on his CD "Music Straight From The Heart" to be released Sept. 22.

A concert celebrating his music and the release of his CD will be held on Sept. 22 at the BarN, 1041 Green River Road, Williamstown. He will sing and play selections from the CD.

When Norman came to my door for the first time 20-some years ago, fetching me as my driving instructor, I did not know he was also a farmer, had been in the Army during the Korean War and had been a teacher for 32 years. Nor did I know that a love of music has been a constant in his life.

"When I was 6, I sang and played a ukulele in minstrel shows," Norman said recently as we sat in my home. "I got my first guitar with money I earned selling seeds. I still have that guitar and a banjo that's been in the family since 1865."

Norman was born in Plainfield and grew up in Charlemont. When he married Betsy, they settled in Williamstown on a farm they named Steepmeadow, where they would raise their six children.

"We sang at county fairs, town events and larger events all around New England," the devoted husband and father said.

In 1976, the American Music Conference of Chicago selected the Burdicks as Amateur Music Family of the Year.

"We stopped doing music in public as a family in the 1980s," the octogenarian said. "Over the years, I've played music at church and at local events."

Norman said his ascent from amateur musician to recording artist "started with Karl Mullen (manager of a recording studio) getting me to go to the song circle at the Williams Inn. There Karl said to me, 'We should do a CD of your songs.' " (Singers and songwriters gather at song circles to share their music and to find out if people like it.)

About a year ago Norman crossed off from his bucket list a wish he had brought to fruition the previous day: Go to the song circle at the Dream Away Lodge in Becket; a song circle Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie once attended.

Norman said, "I do a lot of storytelling and write music to go along with it. My storytelling is true from my life."

Then he gave examples of what he writes about: growing up in the 1930's in the depression, living hand to mouth in a little hilltown, days of rationing, growing old, for which he wrote the lyric, "How did I get here so fast // My memory has lapses, my mouth is still working right // Eighty-six years I've survived wars I didn't start."

Those ballads last as long as 25 minutes. "I had to write something that was shorter," Norman said. "So, whenever the spirit hits me I write about something else such as having fun, my hero Hank Williams, and really liking new songs and old songs: I'll wrap myself in a blanket of them when my world starts getting cold."

Now Norman is looking forward to the concert in the BarN. His son Todd will perform, too, singing, and playing the mandolin and banjo. Singers Sarah McNair and Jackie Sedlock will open the show.

Admission is $10 and everyone will receive a CD. Doors open 6 p.m.; music begins at 7.

"It will be fun," Norman said. "Lots of nice people will be there."

Phyllis McGuire writes from her home in Williamstown. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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